August 2, 2021

“As soon as divisions undermine political families, the hated scenario of the primaries looms irresistibly”

Vabused since 2017, the open primaries are making a comeback on the political agenda. The enthusiasm that marked their importation into France has given way to disenchantment after the bitter defeats of François Fillon and Benoît Hamon. Now is the time for pragmatism. In the absence of other options, the primaries appear to be one of the only solutions available to bring together.

The open primaries were imposed from the 2000s at the crossroads of electoral efficiency (producing a more representative candidate) and democratic demands (making the political system more participatory). By giving more power to supporters, they above all make it possible to resolve often insoluble leadership problems.

Seduction was thus strong in the old parties of government. The double victory of François Hollande (primary then presidential) enshrines this procedure. The electoral efficiency as the citizen mobilization were at the rendezvous, to the point that the right, which was opposed to it, rallied to the method. But the 2017 electoral cycle turns the image of the primaries upside down: from a martingale to victory, they become losing machines with uncontrollable effects.

“Can the still narrow militant base of the parties once again become a solid launching pad for the candidate?” The risk would then be to give the image of curled up parties ”

This criticism of the primaries is not always justified. Of course, they reinforce certain problematic tendencies of representative democracies: personalization, politics understood as “horse racing” or the devaluation of militancy. But the leaders reject them above all because they trigger a perilous process which offers no guarantees of victory and exacerbates partisan divisions. However, this analysis deserves to be qualified.

François Fillon benefited from a large rallying of his competitors after the primary and only won in the polls following the “Penelopegate” scandal [dans lequel l’ancien premier ministre, alors candidat à la présidentielle, et son épouse, Penelope, ont été reconnus coupables de détournements de fonds publics, complicité et recel]. He used, it is true, the democratic legitimacy of his appointment to prevent any substitution candidacy from February 2017. While it tends to polarize political positions, this method of selecting the candidate does not produce mechanical effects. and depends, in fact, on the state of the parties which have recourse to it.

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